Apr 262013

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

It is hard to remember that in 1998, when Mermaid Avenue was released, Billy Bragg was a well-respected leftist folkie, a former busker who had progressively cleaned up and expanded his sound, and he was probably at the height of his commercial popularity. By contrast, Wilco, which was struggling to emerge from the shadows of Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt, had released two albums – a debut that was not fawned over, and a follow-up that was critically adored, but far from a hit. The idea that within a few years, Wilco would become a critical and popular success, serve as an example of the music industry’s bizarre decision-making process, headline places like Madison Square Garden, and curate its own summer music festival, would probably have been scoffed at by most, including Jeff Tweedy.

Keep in mind as well that in 1998, the idea of putting out an album of unrecorded Woody Guthrie lyrics with brand-new music was a bit unusual, but after Mermaid Avenue, it became almost common. Later albums from artists such as Jonatha Brooke, The Klezmatics and even Tweedy’s former Uncle Tupelo bandmate and nemesis Jay Farrar (along with Anders Parker, Will Johnson and Jim James) have followed this theme, as have single songs by artists as diverse as the Navajo group Blackfire and the punk provocateurs Anti-Flag. So, Mermaid Avenue was not only fabulous music, it helped to spawn a revival of interest in the music of Woody Guthrie, which can only be a good thing.

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Apr 252012

British punk/folk rocker Billy Bragg has spent the last three decades embracing grassroots action, protests and politics. Upon quitting the British Army after 3 months in 1981, Bragg began busking with his music and supporting movements to reform the British political system. Bragg is a tireless activist, believing that his work to make a difference starts when he puts the guitar down and becomes more than a protest singer. Continue reading »

Jan 242012

Though Bob Dylan moved away from his role as a ‘protest singer’ long ago — we saw Another Side by his fourth album — his name will forever be associated with social activism. The international human rights organization Amnesty International rose out of the same turbulent era as Dylan, forming in 1961, the year Dylan recorded his first album. Fitting, then, that in celebration of their 50th birthday, Amnesty would call on artists to contribute their Dylan covers to the massive four disc set Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. Continue reading »

Dec 122011

Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International doesn’t come out for another month, but the massive four-disc tribute is available to stream below. We’re just making our way through it ourselves, but the Gaslight Anthem’s “Changing of the Guards” and Queens of the Stone Age‘s “Outlaw Blues” are early highlights. On the flip side, Ke$ha‘s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” is truly atrocious (though Miley Cyrus‘ “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” isn’t bad at all). For whatever reason, you can stream 60-second excerpts of the first two discs and the full songs for the second two. At 2+ hours of music, though, we think you’ll survive. Stream the album below, then tell us what the best/worst songs are in the comments. (via Facebook) Continue reading »

Nov 282011

Can you ever have ever too much Bob Dylan? With the release of an astounding line-up of artists for the latest Dylan tribute, the answer is a resounding – never! Last month we brought you more info on the upcoming Bob Dylan tribute album, Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International (including Ke$ha’s unfortunate quote comparing her music to that of the legend), but the full tracklist gets us even more excited. Elvis Costello! The Gaslight Anthem! Pete Townshend! Flogging Molly! Kronos Quartet! Continue reading »

Nov 212011

Amanda Palmer has been visiting Occupy sites around the country, performing live for protesters in Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, Vancouver, and Seattle. She has been doing covers of Lennon’s “Working Class Hero,” Rebecca Black’s “Friday” (in parody form), and old protest songs. Continue reading »